I first remember hearing about digital literacy a while back on Steve Wheeler’s blog. In talking about digital literacy he gave the comparison of driving a car. In England, we learn to drive a car, take a test, pass it, and go on to buy a car which we then drive regularly. Over time, we become adept at driving and can indeed step into any car and drive it. However, when going to the USA and hiring a car to drive over there, suddenly everything is different. The skill of driving a car is no different, but the rules have changed. Suddenly we become out of kilter with a once well understood manner of behaviours.
In the social learning space, there is a lot said about how learners are just doing it themselves. They’re out there on the social networks, collaborating in different spaces, networking in their own ways, sharing what they find and getting their learning at their point of need.
The population doing this isn’t as big as we might assume. It’s significant for sure, and there are a good many who will get this way of continued working.
But what about people whose role at work means they have no need to interact with the company they work for digitally? They may need to and have to because the world of work is moving that way, but for roles which aren’t office based and don’t require modern technology to do their work, what’s happening to them?
My fear is we’re just ignoring them.
Recently I read an interesting piece about Penguin Random House’s approach to raising the digital inclusion of their workforce, they gave their staff tablet devices. I like it. It’s accepting that people need the right tools to do the work we want them to do. It’s also bold. How many HR departments could convince their IT and Finance colleagues that this is a better investment?
For companies who can’t do this, though, I think we are at real danger of actively excluding people who want to work, but aren’t able to access all that work can offer because it’s all gone digital and they don’t know how to access it.
Linked to this as well is how user friendly the systems we use are. If the UX of the system is awful, then it doesn’t matter how digitally literate you are, you’ll hate using the system. We need to work with vendors and providers more in establishing good usability of their products.
I’m not simply talking about being trained in how to use systems and what have you. I’m talking about outright development programmes of digital inclusion which includes provision of devices, personal support in using them, helping them learn how to use MS Office suites, how to navigate the interwebs well, what it means to have email, how to write an email, and so much more.
Mervyn Dinnen wrote a piece on this for recruitment purposes and highlighted that digital skills will fast become a recruitment factor. Can’t use MS Office? Sorry, there’s 10 other applicants who can. That’s the impact of not growing a programme like this – people who are good workers, want to work, and are capable, but don’t have digital skills.
It’s something I’m going to be embarking on as a long term piece of work for my organisation. I’m setting out to do this because I want people at work to enjoy being there and for them to be able to access everything they’re entitled to. Once I’ve got that happening, then I can be confident of growing an organisation to take full advantage of learning and development in all its guises.